Solidarity with Russian leftists

November 14, 2012

Left-wing activists are calling for international days of solidarity against repression.

TODAY, WE, the representatives of Russian leftist organizations, turn to our comrades all over the world with an appeal for solidarity. This call and your response to it are very important to us. Right now, we are facing not just another instance of dubious sentencing by the Russian "justice" system or another case of a human life broken by the encounter with the state's repressive apparatus.

Today, the authorities have launched against us a repressive campaign without precedent in the recent history of Russia, a campaign whose goal is to extinguish the left as an organized political force. The recent arrests, threats, beatings, aggressive media attacks and moves towards declaring leftist groups illegal all point to the new general strategy on the part of the authorities, much more cruel and much less predictable than that of recent years.

The massive protest movement that began in December 2011 radically changed the atmosphere of political and social passivity established during the Putin years. Tens of thousands of young and middle-aged people, office workers and state employees began to appear on the streets and to demand change. On December 10 and 24, 2011, and then on February 4, 2012, Moscow, Petersburg and other large cities became the sites of massive rallies, demonstrating a new level of politicization of a significant part of society.

Russian police arrest an LGBT rights protester at a demonstration in May
Russian police arrest an LGBT rights protester at a demonstration in May (Sergey Kukota)

The "managed democracy" model crafted by the ruling elite over many years went bankrupt in a matter of days. Political manipulations ceased working in the face of real politics, born from below. The movement, whose demands were initially limited to "honest elections," quickly grew into a protest against the whole political system.

After the elections of March 4, 2012, in which Vladimir Putin, using a combination of massive administrative pressure on voters, massive falsifications and mendacious populist rhetoric, assured himself of another term, many thought that the potential for protest mobilization had been exhausted. The naïve hopes of the thousands of opposition volunteers, taking on the role of election observers in the hope of putting an end to voter fraud, were crushed.

The next demonstration, which few believed would succeed, was scheduled for the center of Moscow on May 6, the day before Putin's inauguration. And on this day, despite the skeptical predictions, more than 60,000 people showed up. When the march approached the square where the rally was to take place, the police organized a massive provocation, blocking the marchers' path to the square. All those who attempted to circumvent the police cordon were subjected to beatings and arrests.

The unprecedented police violence produced resistance on the part of some of the protesters, who resisted arrests and refused to leave the square until everyone had been freed. The confrontation on May 6 lasted a few hours. In the end, over 650 people were arrested, some of whom spent the night in jail.

The next day, Putin's motorized procession headed for his inauguration through an empty Moscow. Along with the protesters, the police had cleared the city of all pedestrians.

The new protest movement had demonstrated its power and a new degree of radicalization. The events of May 6 gave rise to the Occupy movement, which brought thousands of young people to the center of Moscow and held strong until the end of May. Leftist groups, until then peripheral to the established liberal spokesman of the protest movement, were progressively playing a larger role.

THOSE EVENTS were a signal to the authorities: the movement had gone beyond what was permitted, elections were over, and it was time to show teeth. Almost immediately, a criminal investigation was launched into the "mass disturbances," and on May 27, the first arrest took place.

Eighteen-year-old anarchist Alexandra Dukhanina was accused of participating in the disturbances and for the use of violence against the police. The arrests continued over the next few days. The accused were drawn both from the ranks of seasoned political activists (mainly leftists) as well as from ordinary people, for whom the May 6 demonstrations were their first experience of street politics.

So far, 19 people have been accused of participating in those "disturbances"; 12 of them are in jail in pre-trial confinement. Here are some of their stories:

Vladimir Akimenkov, 25, communist and activist of the Left Front. Arrested on June 10, 2012, he will be in detention until March 6, 2013. Vladimir was born with poor eyesight. In jail, it is getting even worse. In the last examination, he had 10 percent vision in one eye, and 20 percent in the other. This, however, was not a sufficient cause for the court to replace detention with house arrest. At the last court session of the court, the judge cynically commented that only total blindness would make him reconsider his decision.

Michael Kosenko, 36, no political affiliation, arrested on June 8. Kosenko, who suffers from psychological disorders, also asked for his stay in jail be replaced with house arrest. However, the court declared him "dangerous to society" and plans to send him for forced treatment.

Stepan Zimin, 20, anarchist and antifascist, arrested on June 8 and placed under detention until March 6, 2013, after which date his arrest can be extended. Stepan supports his single mother, yet once again the court did not consider this sufficient cause to set him free under the obligation to remain with city limits.

Nikolai Kavkazskii, 26, socialist, human rights activist and LGBT activist. Detained on July 25.

Investigators have no clear evidence proving the guilt of any one of these detainees. Nevertheless, they remain in jail and new suspects steadily join their ranks. Thus, the last of the players in the "events of May 6," the 51-year-old liberal activist and scholar Sergei Krivov, was arrested quite recently, on October 18. There is every indication that he will not be the last.

If the arrests of already nearly 20 ordinary demonstration participants were intended to inspire fear in the protest movement, then the hunt for the "organizers of massive disturbances" is meant to strike at its acknowledged leaders. According to the investigation, said "disturbances" were the result of a conspiracy, and all the arrested were receiving special assignments. This shows that we are dealing not only with a series of arrests, but with preparations for a large-scale political prosecution against the opposition.

ON OCTOBER 5, one of the main Russian television channels, NTV, broadcast a film, produced in the style of an "investigative documentary, which contained unprecedented accusations against the opposition, especially the best-known figure of the left opposition, Sergei Udaltsov.

In this propaganda film--in the tradition of Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels--Udaltsov is alleged to have maintained links with foreign intelligence services. The main activity of the Left Front, which Udaltsov heads, is supposedly to have schemed with external enemies of the country.

As evidence, the film reproduced the recording of a conversation between Udaltsov, Left Front activist Leonid Razvojaev, Russian Socialist Movement member Konstantin Lebedev and one of the closest advisers of the president of Georgia, Guivi Targamadze. The conversation suggests a transfer of money from Georgia in order to "destabilize" Russia.

Although the faces are barely visible on the recording and the sound has been recorded and added onto the video separately, barely two days later, it was used as a pretext for a criminal action brought by the Investigating Committee of the Prosecutor's Office of the Federation--the body that is today taking the leading role in organizing the repression.

On October 17, our comrade Konstantin Lebedev was arrested, and Sergei Udaltsov was released after interrogation, subject to signing an agreement not to leave the territory of Moscow.

On October 19, a third participant in the new "affair," Left Front activist Leonid Razvozhaev, tried to petition for refugee status with the Ukrainian delegation of the UN. As soon as he stepped outside of the delegation building, unknown parties forced him into a vehicle and illegally transported him across the Ukrainian border onto Russian territory. Once in an undisclosed location in Russia, he was subjected to torture and threats (including regarding the safety of his family) and compelled to sign a "voluntary submission of confession" and "statements of confession."

In these "statements," Razvozhaev confessed to ties with foreign intelligence and to preparations for an armed insurgency, in which Konstantin Lebedev and Sergei Udaltsov were also involved. Afterward, Razvozhaev was delivered to Moscow and placed in jail as a criminal defendant.

At present, Razvozhaev has asserted in meetings with human rights activists that he disavows these confessions obtained under duress. However, he could not disavow their consequences. "Razvozhaev's list," beaten out of him by torture, has become notorious: it contains the names of people who will before long also become objects of persecution.

THE SCOPE of repression is spreading steadily. Quite recently, the Investigative Committee announced the start of an inquiry into Sergei Udaltsov's organization, the Left Front, the result of which may well be its prohibition as "extremist." Pressure against the anti-fascist movement is likewise building.

The well-known activists Aleksei Sutug, Aleksei Olesinov, Igor Harchenko, Irina Lipskaya and Alen Volikov have been detained on invented charges and are being held under guard in Moscow. Socialist and anti-fascist Filipp Dolbunov has been forced to undergo interrogation and threats on multiple occasions.

It is hardly accidental that the majority of the victims of this unprecedented wave of repression are involved in the leftist movement. At a threshold moment of preparations for austerity measures in Russia, for curtailment of labor rights and pension reforms, the Putin-Medvedev administration is more afraid than anything of an alliance between the existing general democratic movement and possible social protest.

Today's wave of repressions is the most important test for Russia's new protest movement: either we hold strong or a new period of mass apathy and fear awaits us. It is precisely for this reason, in the face of unprecedented political pressure, that solidarity of our comrades in struggle in Europe, and in the entire world, is so crucial.

We turn to you with a plea to organize Days of Solidarity Against Political Repression on the November 29-December 2 in front of the Russian Federation embassy or any other representative of the Russian government in your countries, demanding the immediate release of the illegally arrested and the termination of the shameful criminal actions and preparations for new "Moscow trials" based on torture and forgeries. We also ask that you use the most concrete information in your protests and demands, with the specific names and details that we provide in this appeal. This is crucial for every person behind bars today.

Please send your reports on solidarity action and any other information or questions to [email protected].

Solidarity is our only weapon!

United, we will never be defeated!

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